Jack Penashue had no idea when he started on his journey towards sobriety in 1992 that – more than two decades later – he would be recognized both provincially and nationally for his efforts in helping others overcome addictions.
A self-described recovering alcoholic, Penashue is one of four people from this province who are among 150 Canadians recently recognized (by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) as Mental Health Difference Makers.
About Jack Penashue
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Penashue grew up learning the traditional Innu way of life in his home community of Sheshatshiu.
He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Regina as well as a counseling and program development certificate and administration and management addiction worker certificate from the Nechi Institute in Edmonton.
Penashue has been a tireless advocate for ensuring members of his community have access to programs tailored to their unique mental health and addiction service needs.
The former social health director of Sheshatshiu Innu First Nations, Penashue has also worked for and been a consultant to both the provincial and federal government and spent years negotiating with the provincial government to get access to services from an out-of-province treatment centre. He initially succeeded in getting the centre to bring a version of its services to Sheshatshiu, before obtaining coverage for people to receive residential care at the centre.
“I’m a social worker but my area has always been in community development and social justice. I’ve been involved in getting more health supports and addictions was one of them,” the 50-year-old during a recent phone interview.
Penashue said addiction is like any other illness including heart disease and cancer. He was in his early twenties, he said, when he went into treatment.
“You need to do whatever needs to be done to get better. If that’s going to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or even talking to people – you do what you have to do to recover,” he said.
The Difference Makers campaign is a national movement to nominate and celebrate 150 Canadians making a difference and inspiring hope in the areas of mental health and addictions. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health launched a cross-Canada call for nominations in April 2017. Nominations were open until July 1, 2017, and more than 3,700 names were put forward.
In a press release dated Dec. 5, Health and Community Services Minister John Haggie congratulated Penashue along with the other three difference makers from this province (Amelia Curran, Patrick Hickey and Seamus O’Regan).
Haggie said transforming mental health and addictions care in the province is a government priority.
“The contribution from each of these Difference Makers is influencing how we move forward in that transition. I have the honour of knowing, and personally connecting with each of these individuals. Experiencing their dedication and passion has been inspiring,” Haggie said.
When asked how he felt about the recognition, Penashue said, helping people in his community is always something he has wanted to do.
The recognition proves that you can get through addiction and become “somewhat successful,” a humble Penashue said.
“You can move into a more healthier lifestyle than what you were living,” he said.